A guest post from Angela Clarke, Trustee, of The Emery Walker Trust
The most frequently asked question asked by visitors to Emery Walker’s house at 7 Hammersmith Terrace is whether the Doves Press typeface thrown into the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge over the summer of 1916 – ‘do you think it might still be there’. For the last 10 years, the guides have said that it is most unlikely due to frequent dredging of the river and the fast tide. However they have recently been proved wrong!
Robert Green, a designer, became intrigued by the typeface, recreated it digitally and then decided last year to instigate a search in the mud under the bridge – and miraculously some 100 items of the typeface have been found 98 years later. They will now enable him to make a yet more accurate digital version of the Doves typeface and in due course it is anticipated that some of the items will be on permanent loan and on show at 7 Hammersmith Terrace.
The Doves Press was set up in 1900 by two friends of William Morris – Emery Walker and T J Cobden-Sanderson (a book binder) and named after the pub of that name as Cobden-Sanderson had moved from 7 Hammersmith Terrace to the house next door to the pub. They designed their unique typeface and produced, among others, a very beautiful and still much sought after version of the Bible in 5 volumes, with the opening of Genesis now ranking among the most famous pages in printing. Production of this Bible also involved two of their other neighbours – Edward Johnston whose designs for the typeface for London Underground is still used today and Eric Gill whose typefaces Gill and Perpetua are also in common use. But TJ Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker were very different characters and soon fell out and eventually, to ensure that Emery as the younger of the two men could not inherit the typeface on his death, in 1916 over a number of summer nights TJ ‘bequeathed it’ – all two tons of it – to the river.
The Doves Press was a prized part of the private press movement – a movement in book production which flourished at the turn on the 19th and 20th centuries to produce books as works of art in limited editions often using hand-made paper, and specially designed type-faces as in the case of those for the Kelmscott Press founded by William Morris in 1891 and the Doves Press.
You can hear more about the story of the Doves Press by visiting 7 Hammersmith Terrace which will be re-opening for pre-booked tours at the beginning of March for a shorter season than usual as it will close during the summer for about 18 months for repairs and improvements to the ‘visitor experience’ to be made following the award of an HLF grant Arts and Crafts Hammersmith, a joint project between the Emery Walker Trust and the William Morris Society, which is based at Kelmscott House. The works will however in no way allow the unique character of the house to be spoilt with its almost untouched interior dating back to the early part of the last century.